Lures are a multi-million dollar industry but bait continues to be the “go to” for many salt water anglers. While lures can be an excellent means of fooling even a wary fish natural bait allows to you to skip the trickery and offer what is already a natural food source. It’s like feeding your child what they already like rather than talking them into trying something new. However, bait does require more care and a slight change in tactics if you are going to be success.
Picking your bait
You want to use bait which is naturally found, and that your target species naturally eats, in the area you will be fishing. The best way to do this is to catch you bait yourself in the same water before heading out for bigger game fish. If you cannot collect your own bait pick some up from a local bait shop instead of bringing it with your from somewhere else. Even if your favorite bait works well at home it may not be the food of choice where you are going. Plus, many areas have strict regulations concerning the transferring of baits from one water to another due to concerns over disease or invasive species.
Next, you should always try to use fresh live bait. Again, this is what game fish are feeding on and this is what will result in the most hook ups. If live bait is not available look for fresh cut bait and as a last resort frozen cut bait.
Finally, you need to make sure you have an ample supply available. Even if you are not catching fish on every cast you will need to change your bait frequently. As bait sits it dies or starts to discolor which makes it less attractive to feeding fish. Change your bait throughout the day not just after you lose it.
Most Popular Baits
The list of possible baits is as long as the list of creatures living in the ocean- almost every species is food for some other species at some point in its life. However, the following are some of the most popular and most productive saltwater baits, plus they are generally available wherever you may fish.
These are a favorite food source for a wide range of salt water species and other fish will gladly take a nibble if the opportunity presents itself. For these reasons clams are also a favorite bait with many anglers and can produce well is used properly. Now for the bad news-they can be difficult to find and even harder to use. If possible dig your own and only open as needed. Never use frozen clams as they will turn to mush when thawed. When hooking a clam make sure to use the thickest, solid portion of meat otherwise the clam will fall off during the cast. A trick for making the clam last longer is to also attach it with a small rubber band, like those used for braces, placed around both the clam and hook shaft.
This is another favorite natural bait but unlike clams a little easier to use. Most bait shops will have a supply on hand and it is much easier to pick up a flat or two than trying to pick your own. They can be maintained all day long by simply leaving them in the flat, which is usually filled with damp sea grass, and out of the sun. When it comes to rigging the worm itself there are many options and it really depends on the species you are targeting. For general saltwater fishing try a high/low presentation with the worms hooked enough to be secure but with plenty left to wiggle and attract passing fish.
Squid strips are the chicken nuggets or hotdogs of the fishing world, when nothing else is available the kids will eat them every time. From an angler standpoint they are also one of the easiest baits to use and versatile enough to be rigged in dozens of different ways. Almost any grocery store with a seafood section will sell 1 lb. boxes of frozen squid and this is all you need. Cut it into strips and fish alone, use it to tip jigs & buck tails or as a scent on other lures. A single box will provide enough meat to keep you well supplied for a day on the water, even when changing frequently. Plus, if there is any left over all you have to do is put it back in the freezer.